Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Summer Time

        "Summer time, time, time - child the livin's easy". Janice Joplin was right when she sang those words. It's summer time and the living is easy. The days are long and the nights are warm and with school out the amount of responsibilities for everyone, kids and parents alike are reduced. With summer comes a whole range of activities for both adults and kids but especially for the kids. Outdoor activities that have been precluded by winter weather now become available – sports, games, nature - all are there for the partaking. Summer is synonymous with freedom, most especially for kids. Freedom, however, is a relative term and its definition often depends on needs, desires, circumstances, and the times in which we live.

        When we are children we believe that grown-ups enjoy an amount of freedom that we can only imagine and in many respects that is true. Grown-ups are not only capable of doing so much more than children, they are allowed to do so much more. Grown-ups are the rule makers, the permission givers, the buzz killers with the power of veto over everything. Surely when we become grown-ups we can make the rules for ourselves. We can decide what we can and cannot do. We can throw off the chains of childhood and become the masters of our own fate. Again, in many respects that's true. But when the magical transition finally comes to pass and we metamorphose from larva to adult we find that our shiny, new wings are bound by a new kind of chain. We are constrained by a new rule maker, a new permission giver; ruled by a new master. Responsibility has become our new parent and it is far more rigid and far less affectionate than our old ones.
        There are things other than authority that restrain freedom and this is especially true for children. Today's children are less free than their parents were as children and far less free than their grandparents were. We have all heard it before and said it before - the world of today is a more dangerous place than in generations past. This contention may be debated but I believe it to be apparent and the limitations this puts on our children's freedom cannot be overstated.
        When I was a child, fifty years ago, the world "outside" was where freedom was. Outside, especially during the summer, was where we lived. Indoor activities were for rainy days and rainy days quickly became boring. Who of my generation doesn't remember staring out the window on a rainy day wishing the sun would come out and shine freedom on the world? And who doesn't remember their parent's insistence that the kids "go outside and play"? They didn't want us inside the house and most of the time we didn't want to be there, an unusual correlation of desire between child and parent.

        Inside the house was the domain of the grown- ups. There the rules were strictly enforced and under the all-seeing eyes of parents the boundaries of freedom were clearly drawn. But outside, in the wide world, we kids set our own boundaries and lived by our own rules, rules formed to a large degree by the teachings of our parents no doubt, but then adjusted and modified to the world of children which has different foundations and far different dynamics than the world of adults. There the lessons learned on our mothers' knees, lessons about courage, kindness, fairness, right, wrong and so many other concepts essential to living were tested and adapted in real life situations. Situations whose consequences, seen in the light of a child's perspective, were no less profound for being "childish" than the consequences of later, adult actions. It was in this children's world of the "outside", away from the authority and guidance of adults, where our true characters were tested and our true selves formed. That kind of freedom is a precious gift but it is a gift that is slipping away.

        Today our children are too often denied that gift. The dangers of the world outside have grown over the decades to the point that in many places, perhaps even most, it is unwise to allow our children to roam too far afield unsupervised and unprotected. But it is not the outside world that has changed. The change is on the inside, the inside of us. We have created this situation and the trend is acceleratng. We have allowed our society to devolve into the parody of civilized community it is today in the name of personal freedom. What a joke! Our world is less free and less civilized as a result. When I was a child the world was a safer, and yes, more civilized place. Oh, I know there are those who deny this and say it isn't true but anyone who is honest knows that it is true. There were once norms of conduct that were rigidly enforced by the community and people looked out for their neighbors and especially their neighbor's children. (Remember - It takes a village to raise a child.) This made each neighborhood a safe haven in which the children could thrive. We spent all day out and about and our parents didn't have to worry about us. They didn't even know where we were. They didn't have to. My husband is fond of recalling how at eight, nine and ten years of age he and his group of friends would roam literally miles from home, through the neighborhoods and nearby woods reveling in the life of childhood adventure such independence creates. The only boundaries being those created by the limited distance their little boy's legs could carry them and the only rule being "you'd better be home for dinner". They were free and they were safe.

        Today children are not afforded that same freedom we had and they are the worse off for it. They need to be on their own. They need to be away from the protection and shelter of adults so they can test themselves and learn to cope and adapt to new situations, to be independent and self-sufficient. When they can't experience that freedom outside the home is it any wonder that they seek it in other realms, in the imaginary worlds of video games and the Internet that we all complain about, places where the adults can't follow? Unfortunately, these imaginary worlds are a poor substitute for the freedom of real life because there are no consequences to imaginary actions. There are no life lessons to be learned when violence does not cause real pain, when aggression does not affect the aggressor, when actions don't have real ramifications, when what goes around doesn't come back around. How long can we let this continue? How long do we allow the "social revolutionaries" to destroy our freedom and that of our children?  How long before anything resembling real childhood is gone? "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". Was Janice Joplin right when she sang those words too? How long before the only kind of freedom our children have left is that kind?


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